Imagery - Folk Art in Peru

Imagery stems from the colonial artisan tradition. It involves the creation of a wide variety of objects linked to magical and religious practices.

The greatest variety is to be found in the departments of Ayacucho, Cusco and Huancavelica.

The Retablo San Marcos, crosses, saints, Nativity scenes, the Holy Family and the many portrayals of the infant Christ are just some of the examples of this type of artisanry, which also includes traditional highland themes. Materials used also vary from different types of potato flour paste, apricot seed, plaster, glued cloth and wood from the maguey tree. This type of artisanry features a heavy dose of religious imagery with long, stylized necks created by master craftsman Hilario Mendívil and his wife Georgina in the artisan's quarter of San Blas, in Cusco.


Tiny human figures, animals from the area, images of Christian saints and pre-Colombian deities, stars, mountains and lakes are some of the themes that appear in the colorful world of the Cajones Sanmarcos or Retablos from Ayacucho.

Ayacucho craftsmen found these portable altars to be the perfect element to craft their own religious tradition as well as the religion imposed upon them, without sparking fears among colonial religious authorities of idol-worshipping. The figures in these retablos, or boxed scenes, appeared on two levels: the upper level symbolized the heavens, with saints and sacred Andean animals, while the lower portrayed life on Earth. The retablos initially were limited to the world of shepherds and peasant farmers in Ayacucho. And in fact, the Ayacucho artisans have done most to promote this important tradition of Peruvian imagery. Some of the best-known craftsmen include the late Joaquín Lopez Antay, Florentino Jiménez and Jesus Urbano. These three names have given rise to three schools or tendencies of retablo: magical-religious; traditional; and historical and realistic. Today, styles and themes have multiplied, while Cuzco has emerged as a major manufacturing and trading center.

Huamanga stone carvings

Peru is home to several different types of stone used for carving: granite, basalt, andesite, lake pebbles (found in Puno) and white alabaster known as piedra de Huamanga, which comes from Ayacucho. Huamanga stone carvings were born in colonial times as a result of a shortage of marble and porcelain. Early motifs included figures of the infant Christ and other religious imagery such as saints, crosses, virgins and relics. Later, artisans, who found the stone ideal for carving, developed new religious motifs as well as images linked to the local Creole culture (for example, the image of the vicuña stamping on the Castille lion). Today, Huamanga stone carvings are used to portray Nativity scenes within oval-shaped recesses, replicas of the War of Independence monument at Pampa de la Quinua outside Ayacucho. Other, rougher figures are also carved, mainly as souvenirs for visitors.

Wooden carvings

Wooden carvings were given a major impulse during the colonial era and were influenced by religious paintings. Artisans made decorated retablos, images, pulpits and choirstalls in churches and convents. The San Blas church pulpit in Cuzco features one of the finest examples of local Baroque. The town of Molinos near Huancayo is today one of the main production centers of wooden carvings. There, craftsmen produce everything from utensils and decorative items to toys, such as the striking acrobats with movable arms, plus a series of animals such as cockerels, ducks, horses, donkeys, lions and a bestiary of imaginary creatures. Other finely-crafted pieces include the canes known as bastones de Sarhua, made in the same town as the painted boards called the tablas pintadas de Sarhua.


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